The word “Go” has so many connotations for such a couple of letters. It’s typically upbeat & positive, forward-looking and action-oriented. You get £200 for breezing past it in Monopoly, it’s the oldest board game known, it’s a popular open-source programming language and it’s what the Thunderbirds do.
Back in April 2021, ToW #574 talked about sharing a countdown timer in Teams, if you want to make it clear in a meeting that it’s about to get underway. That was by sharing the application window of a countdown clock, meaning that it would replace any other desktop sharing/slides etc being shown.
Also, the timer will loom very large on the screen of everyone watching, which could well be effective though maybe lacking some of the subtlety you’d prefer.
A more nuanced tip would be to overlay a timer on your own video feed, so you could make the point that things are about to change, and it could be shown alongside other content or whatever else might be happening in the meeting.
Depending on how you do it, the timer could disappear altogether when it has finished, and you’d carry on with the video as before. You might even want to replace your own camera feed with a backdrop and timer until you’re ready to go and show your face.
One recommended way to achieve this effect is to use OBS Studio, open source software which started life as a kind of video manipulation tool aimed at recording or streaming, and has grown to offer a host of features and plugins to modify and manipulate video in real time. It can look a bit scary to start with, but the basics can be picked up quickly.
OBS Studio can apply a series of effects to one or more video sources – could be the real-time recording of windows showing a live demo or a physical camera, with some other stuff like a video file, overlaid on top. You can go down a rabbit-hole of effects (like put a real-life green screen behind you, then chroma key a backdrop or video onto your own video feed – see Scott Hanselman’s tutorial for inspiration).
OBS also includes a virtual camera driver, so while you’re running the software and combining several sources – like a real camera and one or more media sources overlaid on top (along with selected effects) – OBS will combine everything to look like it’s a camera feed that can be selected in Teams, Zoom or any other software that could use a video input.
A simple trick could be to add only a countdown video to OBS and then choose the OBS Virtual Camera in Teams; it will display the video instead of your camera feed, and then when you’re ready to get going, just change the video settings in Teams to go back to your own webcam.
There are plenty of sources online for free countdown videos – here or here for example; download the file, add it to OBS as a Media Source and you’re off. If you’d like to take it up a level, here’s a more in-depth tutorial, and you can even script your own custom ones if you like to delver deeper into OBS features.
679 – Wordlament
Even if you weren’t taken with the viral word puzzle game Wordle, you’ve probably seen the coloured grid that people would share on social media. Sometimes bragging on how
lucky smart they were in getting the answer in a couple of goes, or complaining that it was too hard and that they missed out.
It also gives whingeing poms a new thing to complain about on Facebook groups, every time the Wordle answer is a 5-letter American spelling like FAVOR or LITER.
If you’re still playing Wordle each morning, you might have happened across the numerous other -dle games out there, like Quordle (same idea as Wordle but you 9 goes instead of 6, but need to solve 4 squares), Octordle (like Quordle but x8), Kilordle (x1000 – it’s getting silly). Lots of other “guessing things” online games jumped on the bandwagon, too – there’s Heardle (play it while you can – it’s shutting down on 5 May), Worldle, Cardle and, missing out on the ‘-dle’ suffix, Framed. Who needs to be productive anyway?
Wasting time while keeping your brain occupied is a time-honoured tradition, with crossword puzzles featuring in newspapers for over a century. One of the best word puzzle games to appear on mobile phones, originally launching in 2012, was Wordament. Published from a skunkworks project where two guys built it in their spare time (before moving on to be part of Minecraft), it has gone through several evolutions since, and is now available as a Windows app (in the Store, here), on mobile (Googly | Fruity) and it’s also playable in a browser.
In each of these settings, you do need to suffer some pretty intrusive advertising unless you want to pay a few £ a month (or £10 a year) to make them go away.
If you want to maximise your time-wasting, you can even play Wordament – and other “Games for Work” – within a Teams meeting.
There are other fun games to play during Teams meetings, too – the familiar “Bingo” being one that could be enjoyed by only those participants “in the know”.
678 – New Old Things again
In ToW 632 – New Old Things, the topic of the old version of OneNote getting some spiffy new features was raised. This week carries on the same theme in a different direction – some altogether new versions of old applications, which might be worth taking a look at, even if they’re not quite fully featured yet.
In the beginning there was Skype. Well, actually, before that there was MSN Messenger and its variants. Business environments then got Live Communications Server, Office Communications Server, eventually Lync, and finally the confusingly branded Skype for Business.
Teams came along from the left field around 6 years ago and from a real-time collaboration product point of view, swept all before it (at least in Microsoft), eventually replacing Skype for Business, as the pandemic turbocharged its adoption and appeal. Skype is still with us, with reasonably recent releases and even integration of the new Bing and GPT driven AI.
The thing is, the original Teams client grew up pretty quickly and though it has had lots of improvements, it’s never been especially resource-light, or quick. The Teams team (herein lies one challenge with its name) took the decision to start over and build a new Teams client, shiny and slick and running like greased lightning.
If you feel like giving it a try, you may see a Try new Teams slider on the top left of the main Teams client window; clicking that will restart Teams by closing the old app and starting the new. There are some features not quite there yet, but the list is being updated frequently as functionality improves. If you switch to the new Teams preview and don’t like it, you can quickly switch back – but you’re either/or running one or the other.
Outlook has a longer heritage – it came out first with Office 97 so has its roots in early/mid-90s code, and even if the core of the app has been re-engineered and the UX has had numerous polishes over the years, there are still occasional peeks at a Windows 95 era application lurking beneath.
There has been a push for some time to make the Outlook Web client a more viable alternative for many users, including showing Outlook Web in an Edge sidebar even when clicking a link from the PC desktop client. Functionality differs between the full-fat desktop, the web client and the various mobile apps.
There’s a “new Outlook” on the way, now too – previously codenamed “project Monarch” it’s supposedly been in the works for years, yet looks a lot like the web client that happens to run in a window – it’s available in preview now. It may end up replacing the variety of desktop, web and mobile apps, though that could take a while. In near terms, the new Outlook will likely supplant the default Mail & Calendar apps in Windows 11.
You may see a Try the new Outlook slider on the top right of the main Outlook window; flicking that will restart Outlook in its new guise, however unlike the new Teams, it is possible to run both new and old, side-by-side.
One way would be to make the switch, then on the new “Outlook PRE” icon that appears on the taskbar, choose to Pin it. Then flick back and you’ll now have both old and new Outlooks available together. You could configure the New one to remove your main M365 email account, and just have your Outlook.com / Hotmail or now even a Gmail account, while leaving all your work emails in the old Outlook UX.
If you want to keep old and new Outlook with different account setups – business in the old, private in the new, for example – go straight to the Store and install the New Outlook app, then configure it as you like when it starts.
653 – Bookings with me, you, everybody
Ideally, within an organization where people are expected to work together, they will use tools that have been around since the 1980s and actually share their calendar with their colleagues.
Outlook users can usually see blocks of when someone looks free or busy, when looking in the Scheduling Assistant tab on a meeting, though it won’t show external attendees and unless the attendees have chosen to share their calendar details, you won’t see anything other than tentative, free, busy or out of the office. Hopefully, some eejit won’t have blocked everyone else’s calendars by informing their colleagues of an impending day off.
When dealing with people in other time zones, there is a clue to whether they are likely to be able to join a meeting (quite apart from whether they have their calendar blocked or not) – the Work time setting is meant to show others what days and hours their expected work time is supposed to be.
Looking at the scheduling assistant grid, the light-grey area is supposed to be not-work time, and if there are any lighter-coloured blocks, that means they’re free and open for booking. Individually, you might also see their time zone displayed in their Profile Card when clicking on the user’s name in Outlook, Teams etc. Again, this is available for people in the same organization, so when dealing with external parties another approach will be required.
A variety of 3rd party services exist to help people find time when others are free – a bit like a restaurant or hotel booking service, tools like Calendly or HubSpot (others are available) offer to expose your free time slots to selected external people, so they can find a slot that you are available and reserve it for a meeting with them. Office users could also use FindTime, which effectively sends a poll of suggested times to a group of people and gets them to vote on which one suits them best.
There’s also a Bookings application which is part of Microsoft 365; accessible via the app launcher icon (the grid of squares on the top left if you login on office.com using an account with an active M365 subscription). Bookings is designed to manage scheduling across a group of people – like in a hairdresser’s salon, where multiple members of staff could be available on different shift patterns, but a simple web UI is presented to an end customer so they can find a time when their favourite snipper is available.
Regular ToW contributor Ian Moulster spotted a new addition to Microsoft 365 which appeared in July, and though it may have common underpinnings, it’s a different offering to Bookings – called Bookings with me.
You might spot the Bookings with me notification in the top right of Outlook Web App, or try setting it up at outlook.office.com/bookwithme.
If available in your subscription, you can then set up a booking page with a menu of meeting types you want to accept – eg 20 minute 1:1 Teams calls in “public” (ie available to anyone who has your booking page URL – you might even add it to your email signature), or more specific meetings that are “private”, which you can choose to make available individually to sets of people. There are numerous of controls over how much time before and after the meeting, what days/times it can happen etc. Availability is synced with your Outlook calendar.
When you share the booking page or private URL with people, they just find themselves a time that’s free, and either sign in with a M365 work or school account or give another email address. If the latter, they will get an email with a verification code to enter into the booking form (M365 users are presumed already clean), and after confirming the code, they’ll get a meeting request sent from your calendar, with location and/or Teams details.
652 – ‘Av @, ta!
One of the most eagerly-awaited updates to Microsoft Teams took a step closer, with the announcement at Ignite that Mesh Avatars are going into preview.
When Mesh (the new metaverse avatary thing, rather than the Ray Ozzie sync tech from 2008) was first unveiled 18 months ago, Brad Sams from First Ring Daily had a new business idea. Using Mesh avatars for Teams, the floating torso thing is less of an issue. Since most people in Teams meetings are sitting or standing at a desk, those who use their camera (rather than feigning some technical reason to not do so) will generally only be visible from the middle up anyway.
The Mesh Avatars for Teams feature is currently in private preview, and will roll out more widely “later” – if you’re interested in taking part in the public preview, sign up for more info, here.
In a nutshell, this capability allows you to be in a Teams meeting but instead of showing your camera image, it displays an avatar you define instead.
The avatar doesn’t move, other than its mouth mumbling along if you are talking.
Although the stock images in the preview docs show various types of engagement, all of them are done by the avatar’s operator so most of the time, a team meeting full of avatars will have everyone staring blankly out into space.
One side effect of this is that the avatars still look vaguely engaged, even if their humans have left the room to make a cup of tea. Why sit in a boring meeting when you can have your avatar do it for you?
You create your own digital likeness in a similar process to how you’d customize a character on Xbox – there are numerous options for shape, colour, clothing, accoutrements and so on.
Start by clicking the “…” button on the vertical left toolbar in Teams and search for Mesh Avatar to kick the process off. If you don’t find that in the apps list, then you’ll need to wait until the preview is available to you.
In use, you can either have your camera on or you can use an avatar, and you will be able to add custom backgrounds to either.
You could freak everyone out by taking a webcam photo of your real backdrop, just without you in it, and let your avatar virtually inhabit your actual office.
During a meeting, there is a fairly diverse gallery of actions that you can make your avatar do – from simple stuff like giving a thumbs up or visibly laughing, to a range of theatrical reactions that might help convey how you feel about the meeting you’re currently in.
650 – All hands meetings
Even though Dilbert isn’t funny any more there have been some good ones in the past, satirising corporate life. People who used to be cubicle or office based might struggle to deal with the new reality that most office workers would rather not be in the office 5-days-a week, 9 to 5, yet bosses would prefer people to not be slacking off at home in their PJs.
Zoom, Teams and other platforms adopted a metaphor in an online meeting, where attendees can figuritively raise their hand so they can be asked to speak. It works well when the people running the meeting have the discipline to check that they don’t have a forest of lifted paws before asking, “are there any questions?” to their audience.
It helps if presenters are not doing the lowest-common-denominator thing of sharing their desktop to present slides. Using Teams’ own slide sharing means you can see the chat, and who’s joined, and whether they have their hand raised.
Meeting participants also need to have the practice of raising their hand and waiting to be invited to talk, rather than blaring in to raise new topics or talk over others. Other attendees can also see who has their hand raised (look in the video gallery and you may notice those who have their hand raised are highlighted) and if you look in the People pane, you’ll see the order that attendees raised their hands as well, so if you’re the organizer then you can ask the top and most patient questioner to contribute at a point that makes sense.
A new etiquette has sprung up in hybrid meetings, though – how to balance commentary from remote attendees with chatter that’s happening in the room? Ordinarily, you’d rely on body language in a meeting room to decide it’s time to interject, nodding and perhaps making hand gestures yourself.
When some / half / most of the attendees are remote but you’re in the physical meeting room, it might be prudent to actually join the same Teams meeting on your PC – you’d only be sitting in the room looking at email on your screen anyway – and use the hand raise function before speaking, even if you’re sitting next to other contributors. This way, you’re on the same footing as all the remote attendees and it shows that you are at least giving the pretence of thinking about them too.
When joining a Teams meeting on your PC, there’s a yeah-yeah dialog box which pops up just before entering the “room”, which presents various potentially relevant audio related options. The norm would be to use comptuer audio, then select what speakers/mic you want to use.
These join options can also give you a number to dial in to (or be called by the meeting, so you can stay silent and camera-less on somebody else’s dollar).
If you’re the first to join while in a physical Teams Room, you could bring the room system into your meeting and control it from your machine.
If you are a bod in the room, though, then choose “Don’t use audio” to avoid any mic or speaker issues, causing endless echo. That way, you can enter the online meeting while being in the actual room, interact with other attendees on chat and use features like reactions and hand raising just as if you’re sitting at home.
Just remember that you are, actually, in front of other people, and also remember to change the default option back to “Computer audio” next time you enter a truly remote meeting, or you’ll spend the first few minutes saying “hello, hello? Can you hear me…?”
649 – Exploring SharePoint libraries
SharePoint is now old enough that it could walk into a bar and buy itself a beer. It has changed a lot over the versions; starting out as a server product that would produce “portals” (or “digital dashboards”) it grew quickly to being rather more document-centric. SharePoint became the back-end for OneDrive for Business storage, and both have evolved a long way.
Two years ago, SharePoint was said to be used by over 200 million users. The following year, the Gartner MQ had it way out in front on the “Ability to Execute” Y-axis and slightly behind only one other supplier on the “Completeness of Vision” X-axis. It won’t be long now for the next MQ report to appear.
Nowadays, SharePoint underpins quite a lot of Microsoft 365 functionality, such as apps like Lists which provide a groovier UI over the top of the base web services, and the document oriented collab in Teams.
If you look at a file library in Teams, you’ll see a bunch of SharePoint-y options – you can Sync the content offline and it will be held offline, using OneDrive to sync it (and if you like, syncing only the files you’ve opened rather than the whole shebang).
The Sync’ed libraries show up in the Windows Explorer app, and in any number of applications’ File | Open / Save dialog boxes, so you can access and interact with the files through the apps you use rather than browsing to SharePoint.
You’ll see a collection of folders that have been set up to Sync, shown with your organization name, alongside any personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business synced libraries.
The Download option (next to Sync on the Toolbar in Teams), creates a single ZIP file your computer, with the entire contents of the folder you’re looking at, so use it carefully.
One somewhat overlooked option further to the right of the toolbar (or may be on the ellipsis (“…”) menu): Add shortcut to OneDrive. This creates a shortcut link to the current SharePoint folder within your main OneDrive for Business storage, making it easy to find that SharePoint folder in the future, even though it’s not synced offline. The Add shortcut option is also visible on the ellipsis to the right of sub-folders when viewed in SharePoint or Teams.
Don’t add shortcuts to libraries – or sub-folders – which are already being Synced offline. That would be bad.
One downside to the OneDrive shortcut approach is that it just dumps the link into “My Files”, which is the root folder in OneDrive. The shortcut is named the same as the original source – so if you have lots of Teams folders with the same name (eg “Documents”), they will clash with each other as adding a new link would try to create a shortcut with the same name as one that exists already.
One solution would be to create a subfolder in OneDrive, called Sites (or similar), and after creating the shortcut to your latest Teams/SharePoint site, go to the root OneDrive folder and move your new shortcut – maybe renaming it too, so you can see what its parent site was (since the shortcut doesn’t make it clear what the source SharePoint site is) – you’d then have a Sites folder with lots of Shortcuts like Project Team – Documents etc.
Another side benefit of using shortcuts rather than Syncing offline, is that if you have multiple PCs – or feel like accessing OneDrive through a browser on a different machine altogether – you will always have access to the same collection of shortcuts, whereas the Sync offline capability is configured separately on each machine.
633 – Muting in Teams
“You’re on mute” became a catchphrase of 2020, even featuring in London’s New Year firework & drone display at the outset of 2021. A year later, Lake Superior State University added it their list of phrases that should be banned from the lexicon, along with “Deep Dive”, “Circle Back” and “New Normal”. Pioneer even sent aloft a loudspeaker saying “You’re on Mute” in several languages, symbolically firing it into space for good (though it went up as far as 30km, it did come back down again and space nerds will know that actual “space” isn’t regarded as starting until 100km from the Earth’s surface).
Some functional improvements in Teams have been released to help manage the state of being muted/unmuted; the applications can even recognise that you’ve started talking but your mic is off and will remind you of the shortcuts to switch it on again.
CTRL+Space is particularly useful if you just want to chip in a short comment on a call where most people are muted, rather than fishing around to click on the Mic icon within the meeting. Press and hold to talk and release to go back to being quiet.
We’ve all been in Teams meetings when someone has left themselves unmuted and presumably doesn’t realise – they start talking to someone else in their house / dog barks / they start eating a bag of crisps / sighing noisily etc. Social etiquette will often have the speaker ask, “Oh, does someone have a question?” or the slightly more direct instruction to mute yourself unless you want to talk.
By looking in the People pane to the side of the Teams meeting window, you can see who is making noise as their icon will have a halo around it. If you are the organiser or have been given Presenter abilities (as is often the default), then you’ll be able to silence the heavy breathers and furious typists by right-clicking their icon and muting them. It may be slightly passive-aggressive, but the offender gets notified and hopefully will feel a good sense of righteous shame. Unless they’re actually the current presenter, and someone else has pranked them by muting them in mid-flow.
There are some other controls aimed at making online meetings less rowdy affairs, by giving the organiser the power to control who gets to speak or show their camera in the first place.
Bear in mind that it only applies to “Attendees” (ie all “Presenters” can choose to make their mic / camera available any time) and by right-clicking on an attendee’s icon in the Participants list, an organiser can allow the Mic / Camera to be enabled for that user; note it doesn’t take them off mute, it just gives them the ability to unmute themselves. Just Imagine the horror if an organiser could switch on another attendee’s camera and mic without their involvement.
As we increasingly go back to hybrid meetings where remote participants will join a meeting room full of meatbags, it’s important once more to manage the microphone / speaker dance when several people in the same space join the same meeting. One best practice is to have people in the room log in to the online the meeting too, and potentially use the raise hand feature in Teams before they are asked by the organiser to talk, that way putting them on an equal footing with remote participants. But this will be bad news if those physical attendees don’t fix their laptop audio properly.
If you have multiple people in one place who have their mics and speakers on, you’ll have the bad kind of feedback loop, with escalating echo. You could get them all to mute their mics, but the main meeting room microphone will pick up the sound of their speakers too, with the same effect; so in-room attendees need to mute both speakers & mic.
Pay attention to the “yeah, yeah” video and audio dialog that most people will rush through when joining a Teams meeting; there’s a “Don’t use audio” feature which means you’ll join and have no worry about your own laptop causing problems in the meeting room.
If you have a Teams Room system, you might want to join with no video too or you’ll end up with a gallery of attendees who are facing away from their camera, as they look at other people in the physical meeting room.
624 – Present in Teams, like a Boss
|Even after 2 years of mostly enforced remote meetings, it’s still amazing how many people have yet to master some of the basics of online meetings – like management of the mute button and general audio interference, positioning of screen/camera so you’re not looking up their nose or side of their face, professing to having bandwidth issues as the reason for not enabling video, and many more. One “room for improvement” function is that of presenting PowerPoint slides and not looking like an idiot.
Firstly, have a practice with Teams if you’re not sure how things are going to work out – just go to the Calendar tile and you’ll see a Meet now option in the top right; that creates a new instant meeting in which you can play.
Don’t share your screen to present slides in PowerPoint (unless you really insist). Instead, save your PowerPoint to OneDrive for Business or SharePoint, and you’ll see a Present in Teams button in the top right, or a larger button on the Slide Show tab.
Choosing this opens up a Presenter View akin to the one in PowerPoint, which is the default if you have multiple monitors and you start a Slide Show. This view lets you see Speaker Notes, jump quickly to specific slides rather than paging through them, and be more interactive with the meeting than you could ever be if you were simply sharing a screen showing a PowerPoint slide on your computer.
Perhaps the most useful aspect of this mode in Teams is that you can still show the Chat or People pane to the side of the window – allowing you to keep an eye on attendees who might have their hands raised, or who ask questions in the meeting chat.
There are some other controls of note – the eye icon lets you decide if attendees can flick through your slides or whether you want to lock them to seeing only the slide you’re currently presenting. Useful if you have a Big Reveal coming at the end.
Next to that icon, there are some others which define the presenter mode – Content Only on the left, shows just the slide you want. Next to that is Standout, which takes your video and overlays it onto the slide rather than having it appear as one of the surrounding gallery of other attendees. And next to that is a new preview PowerPoint feature called Cameo, which integrates with the Teams Client.
A downside of the Standout mode is that you don’t get to control where your image goes on screen, or how big it is – so you might well obliterate some part of the content you’re presenting. This new feature gives you a way to solve that.
In PowerPoint, go to the Insert tab and on each slide add a Cameo (or a Camera as the object it creates is described in some controls), then place and size it as you want.
If you select the new object, the Camera tab will give you more customization options.
Use the Camera Styles gallery to pick from a shape and border/shadow combination, though the Camera Shape menu offers other variants to enhance your impact.
You will need to add a Cameo to every slide you want to show up on – potentially useful if you want to only appear for intros and Q&A but perhaps leave the content on its own for other parts.
Since each slide has its own Camera object, they can be of different shapes and you can even use the groovy Morph animation effect to transition too.
While in Presenter view, try using a “laser pointer” to temporarily show traces around something on your slide, with mouse or Surface pen to control it. There is a pen or highlighter to make more durable Ink markups, and if you double-click/tap each icon, you can set options like size, colour, adding arrow tips etc.
One downside of the Presenter View is that it shrinks the content on your own screen to the point of possibly making it difficult to read, especially if you’re showing the People or Chat pane as well – in fact, the content is only about 20% of your screen real estate.
Using Pop Out might help if you have a larger second screen connected, though chances are you’ll be using the camera on a laptop so ideally want to be looking at that display.
Since nobody really uses Speaker Notes anyway, you could try Hide presenter view, which means you’ll lose the slide thumbnails and speaker notes, but still keep the other controls. Go to the View control on the top left of the window and choose Full Screen to increase it even more.
For more details on using the new Cameo feature, see here – it is in preview which is rolling out through Office Insiders first so you may not see it right away. If you are presenting using simple app or desktop sharing rather than the PowerPoint Live model described above, there are some other options in how you appear alongside your content.
As well as launching the PowerPoint Live sharing from within PPT itself, you can choose to share recent presentations while in Teams – just scroll down past the various “share screen / app” options and you’ll see more. This topic was covered previously on ToW #576.